A few years ago here in Washington, NH there came out what appeared to be a sincere call for new blood to occupy the various and sundry positions, committees, commissions and boards that comprise this small mountain town. The town does have its true locals; those whose families first settled and eeked out a living here, back when it wasn’t the First Town Incorporated Under the Name of Our First President, but merely “Monadnock Number 8”. But those locals are few and far between, and aging. Their offspring have sought other vistas and new opportunities. Mostly, Washington is comprised of flatlanders who have retired here from Connecticut, Massachusetts, or occasionally, New York. In the summer, the population swells to twice our normal size; Washington has several small lakes and ponds which house vacation homes. Basically, Washington consists of retired people and summer people, with a few locals and a few young, working families mixed in. And by few, I mean, getting fewer by the day.
Still, there was a call for young blood and we answered the call. Lionel went out for a Planning Board position and was elected. It became apparent though, as they repeatedly scheduled “working meetings” during working hours on weekdays, and the near impossibility of both working a job one hour away from 9am to 5pm and also making a meeting by 6pm without having eaten a proper meal between, that they didn’t really mean it. Or rather, what they’d meant was that they wanted more of their fellow retirees to come join their little cliques. When Lionel asked, one evening, if they could possibly consider moving the meeting by a 1/2 hour so that he could more easily make the meetings, they all scoffed. One of them said they needed to get their horses to bed. Another said it would interfere with his dinner. One retorted, “We all have problems.”
Recently an older woman announced, in the middle of Story Hour at the library, that we were all welcome to join the yoga classes which happened twice a month at Camp Morgan. Momentarily interested, I and another parent asked what time the classes were. “Oh, they’re at 9am on Wednesdays!”
When we both explained, rather politely, that neither of us (nor anyone else who works) could make such a time, she blithely responded that perhaps we could make it in the summer. I really didn’t know what to say. See, we both work year round. It was clear that she’d noticed that the population of her yoga class swelled in the summer but it apparently didn’t register that none of those people were actual residents. Ironically, I and the other parent, who are actual residents, at least in the nominal sense that we register our cars here and vote here on election day, have memberships to health clubs in a separate town. And not the same separate town, either.
Back when I was still trying to promote and support the local Farmer’s Market, I made a suggestion to some of the other vendors that, on the July 4th weekend flea market day, during which the entire Town overtakes the green we would normally set up the market on, that we cordon off a section of the green and have all of the Farmer’s Market vendors in one space, the vendors I was talking to just stared at me like I was from Mars. I tried to explain that I thought it would be better for everyone involved if people who would normally visit the market were still able to find their regular vendors and that it would work better for the market as a whole, but they laughed at me. “I do great on that day!” one vendor, who sells what amounts to flour and sugar, said. Another vendor, who makes jellies which contain large amounts of sugar and vague hints of fruit, nodded in agreement “Yeah, that’s my best day too!” Translation: I got mine. To hell with the rest of you.
The motto of the Granite State is Live Free or Die. This motto can mean you are free to live your life without the interference of government or neighbor. But it also can mean that if you haven’t gotten yours yet, you better just keep going it alone, because no one is looking out for you, or people like you, or people who need even more help than you. Collaborating, cooperating or striving for the common good is completely out of the question.
That’s not to say that there aren’t people here in town who are trying to get something big accomplished. One group in town is doggedly determined to fix up the Town Hall, add a true basement for office space to it, and renovate the beautiful and historic second floor which houses a theater capable of seating 100 people. Another group in town is concerned that the current safety services are being compromised by a building too old and too small to accommodate modern equipment. But the one doesn’t see the value of the other. Their project is the most important, no, the only project in town. Consequently, right around Town Meeting a flurry of friendly emails came flying about, starting with “Higuyshowareyouandthegirlshaven’tseenyouinawhile” and ending, predictably with “HOPE TO SEE YOU AT TOWN MEETING AND VOTE YES ON THIS!!”
Yeah…. remember that petition we circulated around town a while back? The one about working families and education and all that? That one you scoffed at and dismissed? You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours? Well my nails are all worn down and my back is getting awfully itchy. Have fun with that project thingy. I’m too busy working on mine.
Please, my fellow Washingtonians, be sure to keep your blinders on because those rose colored glasses only work when you look out of them straight on. One day, the glasses will break and you’ll take them off, and, maybe, look around in surprise. You won’t see the tricycle of your neighbor’s three year old. Your neighbor drives her three year old to the only available daycare, three towns over. You won’t hear the screams of laughter coming from the Town Beach. What kids are left all go to camps hours away which maintain reliable hours. You won’t see your neighbors jogging down the road because they all go jogging on their lunch break at their separate, lonely jobs in separate, far away towns. There will no longer be a “school bus” sign down the road because there isn’t a school anymore. You’ll see weeds, unattended roads, broken down houses. You’ll hear the wind in the trees and the birds in their nests and you’ll still feel like everything is fine. It’s why you moved here, after all. And why everyone else moved out. At least your taxes are low.